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20 Jul

They Will Steal Your Idea. They Cannot Steal What Really Matters.

They Will Steal Your Idea. They Cannot Steal What Really Matters.

“If you were the inventors of facebook, you would have invented Facebook”- Mark “Jesse Eisenberg” Zuckerberg

If you’re in the tech scene you have most likely seen the theatrical trailer for The Social Network, a movie with a semi-sensational edge on the founding of Facebook. The quote above really stuck out at me, and made me realize stealing an “idea” is a lot like stealing a snapshot. Even if someone steals your precious idea, they can’t steal the more important resources+skills that aren’t apparent in the context of that very small snapshot. Focus on the things unique to you that your competitors cannot steal:

They cannot steal your long term vision: Craigslist started in SF, Facebook at harvard, Google with only millions of pages, and Microsoft started as a basic interpreter. Everyone has a minimum viable market. The real question is: ” What is your long term vision?” Your long term vision and the path that gets you there cannot be stolen. When someone tries to steal your idea, they usually just steal the current market you’re going after. Could you have imagined ConnectU having a vision like that of the Facebook platform like Mark did? I doubt it.

They cannot steal your domain expertise: Truly great ideas are organic and usually come through your own experiences. Marc Benioff started salesforce after years of understanding the business software space by working at Oracle. Many other startups are born through founder’s frustrations with processes in areas they have domain expertise in. This deep understanding, especially in vertical and/or very specific engineering cases can only come through first hand experience.

They cannot steal your market failure driven pivots: The successful version of your product or eventually products will certainly look different than the idea someone stole, which was likely in the napkin phase at the time. After they steal your initial idea a fork in the road is formed by the pivots and failures that you go through. Someone who actually has the balls to “steal your idea” will be so blindly in love with it that they will most likely be closed to feedback which may alter it.

They cannot steal your talent (at this point): Do you think the Winkelvoss twins could have recruited the tech team that is in place at Facebook today? It takes a certain class of founder to attract top notch talent. Many think that they can just outsource the development work overseas or have someone write copy for $10 an hour to make things sell. That’s just foolish. If you surround yourself with insanely smart people you trust in the early days they cannot be stolen. If they can, then you picked the wrong people to be cofounders. Only when you’re beyond the idea stage does poaching from similar companies become a problem.

They cannot steal your analytical insights: The data you collect in your early days is so very important and for the most part so very unique to your exact concept. Track every click, every conversion, and every complaint from a user. Find out what is working and most importantly what isn’t working. People trying to steal your idea will think that pixels are there just because they look pretty in that place or that those exact words were there because they sounded smart. What they don’t know is that every pixel and every word in place has meaning through rigorous analytical insights.  Here’s a great post that scientifically explains a lot of the analytics and metrics you should be tracking.

They cannot steal your plans for generating revenue: You can break down most revenue models on the Internet down to their simplest form as either advertising based or charging for something. The real value comes from the details. Who are you charging? How much? What type of ads are you running? Why can you charge that rate? Why does it convert? The most someone can steal is your pricing page or your rate card. They can’t steal the endless testing, customer development, and insights behind those numbers. You should almost hope they play follow the leader here. When it comes time for your competitors to change these numbers, they won’t know what to do. You’ll be far far ahead before they realize what to do.

They cannot steal your passion for great service: Shoes. Fucking Shoes. No. Fucking great customer service. That’s what Zappos sells. If someone tried to steal the idea for Zappos over a decade ago they would have probably said: “Let’s set up an ecommerce shop for shoes. Those Zappos guys are making a killing. It’s a great idea!” What they would have missed is the passion for great customer service. Do you think someone trying to steal the idea for Wufoo would steal the concept to write thank you notes to customers? I doubt it.

They cannot steal your passion to make this idea a reality: People stealing ideas are often followers. They are a product of the passion and vision you have displayed to them. They may often get passionate about the idea for a few days, but that passion will surely fade almost instantly once they realize the difficulties that lie ahead. Since an idea is just a snapshot, they will often lose passion/energy once they find themselves lost as to what lies beyond that one snapshot.

They cannot steal your luck: Luck is a funny thing.  It’s a weird multiplier of success.  It just happens (or doesn’t happen) to startups.  It might be the difference between very little money or a whole lot of money.  When it hits, boy is it sweet.  You can’t steal luck.  It’s like a ghost that you can only faintly see in the photograph afterwards.  If someone tried to steal it, they would probably be grabbing at air.

Be open with your ideas (Chris Dixon gives good insight here).  I suggest sharing your ideas in a blog post to solicit feedback.  It worked well for me.  They will change by the time they become real businesses.   Don’t worry about someone stealing the idea, worry about the things they cannot steal.

  • Sasha H. Muradali

    This is a really great post.

    Thanks for sharing! I agree with a lot of your points. Sometimes, I fee like we just get so angry and caught up in corporate politics. But at the end of the day people can take ideas and other 'little' things, so to speak, away from you — but they can't take away what's going to make it brilliant.

  • Jason L. Baptiste

    Hey Sasha, thanks for the feedback! It's a pretty binary world: it's either done or not done. If someone steals an idea from you and beats you on every front, then they won, that's life. Sure things might not always be fair, but when are things ever fair.

  • Sasha H. Muradali

    That's true too.

    But I think that at the end of the day, maybe its the optimist in me, people
    can steal ideas, but they can't steal integrity or dignity.

    Either way, you're right — but how often does that happen? lol

  • vlad

    lets suppose one made honest billions with seed capital of $10 he had stole from his roommates. This $10 would definitely have no bearing on the suckfest around such billionaire.

  • noel chandler

    Thanks for writing this, it couldn't have hit me on a more relevant day. One of our products has a growing number of “me toos” who are causing market place confusion and attempting to drive down the price. As a team today we decided to focus on the positive and have confidence in our product and customer service. This post confirms it is the best decision for us moving forward. Our customers will see and understand our value.

  • Yoav Shapira

    Well said!

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  • Miguel Sampedro

    Loved the post, congrats. This post on Steve Jobs insights goes inline with yours:…)
    Cheers from Argentina!

  • Vanessa Lorente

    Wise thoughts. Thanks for sharing! I reckon the world would need MUCH more understanding of that spirit!!! Perhaps it could ultimately lead to co-creation vs competition? In any case, focusing on our best potential instead of working from the need to protect ourselves from others, I'm sure we'd all be doing better things!… and happier people too!

  • SteveK

    Great post and lost of good points worth taking on board.

    Of course if 'they' happen to be smarter than you (but you just had the great germ of an idea) – then what? It's still stealing, even if it's possible to argue that you weren't “worthy” of the idea in the first place, or that you didn't “deserve” it because you didn't go for it quicker, better and harder than 'they' did. I'm not sure that's a concept worth pursuing in law.

    The biggest point of the article, I guess, is – if you have an idea, go for it for all you're worth – BE the first, because chances are other smart, passionate people are having smart ideas too, and one of them may make your idea redundant.

  • Desiabroad

    Two examples that say otherwise: Windows, Android

  • Jason L. Baptiste

    thanks Yoav!

  • Jason L. Baptiste

    Windows and Android are actually two very different approaches + long term
    visions. Apple isn't a software play. Windows and Android are.

  • rainwebs

    This view will help to cope with the frustration when competition starts.

  • pruett

    really liked this article. many solid and valid points here. i discovered this article through business insider. would love to chat and discuss business at your convenience. i wrote a similar piece about “becoming an open entrepreneur” here:

  • Jason L. Baptiste

    Thanks Kevin! Feel free to drop me a line at: Great
    article on your part btw. Talk soon.

  • Karthik Mahalingam

    This is a really great post. Thank you.

  • kaysha


  • Jason L. Baptiste

    thank you!

  • Anh

    True. It's silly when people always claim their ideas are unique & nobody can ever think of such ideas.
    At the end of the day, the way you innovate your business would matter the most. Even if people steal your ideas, the best thing that can happen to them is that they may become #2.

  • Jason L. Baptiste

    Yup, ideas are like showing up for a marathon. Succeeding and being an
    entrepreneur is actually finishing the marathon.

  • Chicken Soup

    Hi jasonlbaptiste!
    Can I translate and edit it into Vietnam languages. Hope you accept, I promisse I will specify the source.

  • Jason L. Baptiste

    Sure! Please just attribute the source. I've noticed the linkhay
    traffic which seems to be a big site in Vietnam. Would love to have
    it in the native language. Thank you!

    Sent from my iPad Nano

  • Damla

    They may even help you with pushing you to work faster :)

    I believe there is a reason why some start-ups are very luck, I like this article a lot:

  • Chicken Soup

    This is Viet Nam version
    Hope u like it

  • David

    I love finding articles that deal with startups and the stuff they face, but they almost always seem to focus on The Next Big Thing. My startup plans are for a very small niche market. I'll be fine if I'm never more than a one-man shop. In fact, I'll be fine if I never quit my primary job. Why don't more articles focus on this kind of startup? (The one exception to this rule is 37signals, whose book RE:THINK does talk about right-sizing your business, even if that you're both the first and the last employee.)

  • Mustafa Alyousef

    Grat Post

  • Worth Zero

    Great post. Deal with this delusion daily … feeds my comics :-) Ideas are Worth Zero. Nobody can steal it if you really have something. Cheers!

  • Armando Gutierrez


    As always you are a master of the internet universe.

  • Ron

    “Could you have imagined ConnectU having a vision like that of the Facebook platform like Mark did? I doubt it.”
    Funny- it is Mark who stole the idea-are you saying that just because one has vision, it is ok to steal other people’s ideas ?

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  • Matt Kinsella

    This reminds me of something I heard once and I remind people all the time: There is no shortage of ideas, everyone has a good idea; it’s the execution of the idea that is key. People often focus and put too much value on an idea when what is valuable is the process of turning that idea into a real and viable product that makes money.

  • dev

    I actually had my idea stolen today. I feel very foolish and hurt. Thanks to your post I feel much better. The person who I was working with told me she was stealing my ideas and she was mean about it. She was using me all along but I chose not to see the signs. Your post makes a lot of sense, she just has an idea she doesn’t have the capability or knowledge to back it up. I hope she fails. I really do.

  • John McFarlane

    I think its quite possible that even if you never told another soul about your idea and did the development and everything yourself to ensure that you had no need to tell anyone anything that someone on the other side of the world could have pretty much the same startup idea.

    As the population of the world has now reached 7 billion, theres a chance that 2 or more people can come up with the same idea, both could get paranoid that the other stole their idea, its probably a coincidence though that they both had the same idea.

    A line should definately be drawn though with regards to what you say, i mean how much you say, be free with the info that wouldn’t cause your idea harm, for example telling people the same details that you would be ready to explain to potential customers is going to be fine, just dont open up so much to the point that it causes problems.

  • Tasha A

    Thanks for this! I just went through an investor stealing my company.  You’re right, they can’t replace the authenticity and passion of the founder.  And now they’re sitting on a company without the driving force of the founder.  They can steal the company but they can’t steal the talent and passion behind what created the company.  It was a good learning experience as a start up but I still struggle with the lack of ethics and originality of people who need to steal. As I was recently reminded…”people who steal can never hold on to what they steal”

    • John McFarlane

      Steal the company? How did that happen or do you mean mostly the idea?

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  • games24x7

    I am not 100 % sure about the idea of stealing. Because in some case if your idea have stolen, then all actual plan will disclose, and will not be as effective as it should be in normal cases. 

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  • Jenna S.W.

    “People often focus and put too much value on an idea when what is
    valuable is the process of turning that idea into a real and viable
    product that makes money”

    this is good and true.
    but the real worry of if someone is going to steal your idea is not that they will just steal it but that they will have more resources than you to actually turn it into a viable product. What if your funds are limited and it will take time to get your product up and someone sees your idea in progress, jumps ahead of you and dominates?

    This is where the problem is.  There is always someone who has more money than you.

    • John McFarlane

      Then i think you could watch their mistakes, they also might run out of money.

      • Joah

        This is main issue. Facebook was a stolen idea in uni and was full speed ahead when others took notice. But what if an idea is noticed when you’re still trying to lift company off the ground and someone with big money or human capital takes the lead, you won’t even be recognized as the pioneer. Who’s to say that ConnectU wouldn’t be great and Facebook wouldn’t exist?

  • simontufel

    i also agree with your commit that you have flashed  on your blog. influence of your idea  and your executing skills liked most.that is the real founder.  

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  • kc

    But they can steal your money after they prove you stole their basic idea. Didn’t the dudes suing the creator of Facebook win for millions of dollars?

  • Mr Daré

    3 year old blog post that hits home LOL well written and so true. I always have this nagging sense of vulnerability once an idea has been discussed before it’s executed especially when you share your vision with them out of naíve trust haha!

    Feel much better now that you’ve shown a much wider perspective Well done!!

  • Justa

    I’m looking around for a manifesto I received a couple of years about not protecting your ideas, sharing them, letting people copy you etc. Can’t find it anywere anymore. Does it ring a bell to any one?

  • Rahman

    When you get to learn new things along with your job, it always makes the job more interesting. Learning is a process which we get never tired off and always keeps you updated.

  • Gowtham Gutha

    But what if they come to know our vision statement?

  • John Orciga Morales

    Shame to those who steal ideas.. and usually they can’t execute it properly..